Sir Lleb has left the building
I learned today that Pedro Bell had died last Tuesday in Evergreen Park, Illinois, near Chicago, at the age of 69, and felt sad: about his death and about his treatment during the later parts of his life.
Pedro Bell designed all of the iconic Funkadelic album covers, and wrote almost all the album notes. In doing this he became responsible for much (if not most) of the P-Funk mythology. According to George Clinton:
What Pedro Bell had done was invert psychedelia through the ghetto. Like an urban Hieronymus Bosch, he cross-sected the sublime and the hideous to jarring effect. Insect pimps, distorted minxes, alien gladiators, sexual perversions. It was a thrill, it was disturbing. Like a florid virus, his markered mutations spilled around the inside and outside covers in sordid details that had to be breaking at least seven state laws.
More crucially, his stream-of-contagion text rewrote the whole game. He single-handedly defined the P-Funk collective as sci-fi superheroes fighting the ills of the heart, society, and the cosmos. Funk wasn’t just a music, it was a philosophy, a way of seeing and being, a way for the tired spirit to hold faith and dance yourself into another day. As much as Clinton’s lyrics, Pedro Bell’s crazoid words created the mythos of the band and bonded the audience together.
Half the experience of Funkadelic was the actual music vibrating out of those wax grooves. The other half was reading the covers with a magnifying glass while you listened. There was always more to scrutinize, analyze, and strain your eyes. Funkadelic covers were a hedonistic landscape where sex coursed like energy, politics underlay every pun, and madness was just a bigger overview.
Pedro called his work ‘scartoons’, because they were fun but they left a mark. He was facing the hard life in Chicago full-on everyday with all the craft and humor he could muster.
Pedro’s unschooled, undisciplined street art gave all the Suit execs fits, as when the cover for “Electric Spanking of War Babies” caused such a scandal that it had to be censored before release. It also opened the door for all the great NYC graffiti artists of the late 70’s, for the mainstream success of Keith Haring’s bold line cartoons, and James Rizzi’s marker covers and “Genius of Love” video animation for The Tom Tom Club.
Despite all this he ended his life broke and living in a one room apartment. Many other people did much better out of the mythology he created than he did.